tv Hardball Weekend MSNBC January 18, 2014 2:00am-2:31am PST
that's our report. thanks for watching. i'm john seigenthaler. "operation road hog." let's play "hardball." i'm chris matthews in washington. let me start tonight with this. with at least a dozen subpoenas issued and a growing list of office holders past and present scurrying for protection both legal and political, the reputation of new jersey itself stands on trial. it's not just the re-elected chris christie who faces peril but those in both parties and the legislature as well as the governor's office. can the leaders and key investigators in trenton get to
the bottom of this operation road hog that has disgusted the country or will they be blocked by a system that protects the politician while ignoring the public? well, the good politics now of catching the perpetrators and preventing such acts from happening again overwhelm the people who have committed those acts and sought to hide them. well, the good politics of catching the bad guys in this episode beat the bad politics of those who now nervously wait for the wheels of justice to commence. as the machinery of this investigation emerges this friday with each new output of subpoenas, this is the question that looms. as those looking for the truth go to war with those seeking to hide it, who's going to come out on top? will there be enough juice to become a huge potent blob of denial and self-protection? louis greenwall is a new jersey assemblyman, the majority leader and serves on the investigative committee itself. loretta weinberg's district includes ft. lee and has been
fighting to get to the bottom of this scandal since it began. the committee investigating the george washington bridge traffic jams or as i call it operation road hog. here they are, bridget ann kelly who was fired by the stephon. bill stepian. port authority chairman david samson. bill barone, the former deputy director of the port authority appointed by chris christie. david wildstein. kevin o'dowd. regina agea, christie's chief of staff, maria comella, christina geneves. and evan ridley, another christie aide. philippe danielides.
christina lado, the port authority's director of government and community affairs of new jersey and paul nunziata. also nicolle davidman, colin reed, press secretary and christie for governor incorporated. and the office of the governor itself. let me go to assembly leader louis greenwald. give us a sense of what this widespread of subpoenas tells you about the nature of the investigation now being undertaken. >> well, chris, we've cast this net based upon the advice of counsel from the original e-mails that were turned over and a scan of those e-mails and an investigative review to see where the points of connection were. these subpoenas are discovery tool. they are nothing more than that. they are not to cast blame or take anything from that as to allegations of what role these people may have played.
but from being a part of the e-mails and that e-mail chain and the point of connection, we believe that they are key figures that would be able to provide insight as to where is the root of the power of the abuse of power and how deep it goes. you know, our suspicions are clearly that it goes deeper than bridget kelly and that the people on that list would be able to provide that information. >> what do you make of the governor's statement that it was really bridget kelly who's behind all this who lied to him and basically implied that she was the one who would initiate this whole bridge closing based upon what was unearthed as an e-mail statement from her that said "time for some traffic problems in ft. lee." he makes it sounds like that's the beginning and the end of this saga. is that accurate as you know it? >> well, i would find that very hard to believe on the bridget kelly that i know. she served the state legislature as a liaison to the governor's office, very talented staffer, very responsive to us.
but she was not someone who, when we dealt with her on public policy, that she would make a decision on her own. she routinely would say, let me go back and check in with the front office. i'll be sure to get back to her. to her credit, she would always did, but she was not someone to have that authority to make that decision on her own. i would find that very hard to believe that she would have masterminded the closure of the bridge solely on her own. and that's really what's led to this investigation. the governor himself, i think, must be having a hard time believing that because he has launched his own investigation and hired outside counsel to review his executive office. i applaud him for that. i think any executive would have done that. i wish he would have done it sooner, but i think that's the right move. even his own actions don't suggest that he believes that it begins and ends with bridget kelly, and that's why, quite honestly, we made the decision we did over the weekend in bringing in who has received remarkable accolades from people across the country for the hire.
>> well, i'm skeptical and i'll say that because i'm an outsider watching this. but having watched the governor's office at least in public, not under oath, that he never once had a conversation with any of his staff people, any of the appointees at the bridge authority, port authority, never any evidence of any curiosity on his part and in fact used to mock the press for saying i'm not going to be a prosecutor, i'm not going to conduct an investigation. now when he's caught in this web, he says i'm going to be the one investigating my whole team. it smacks of nixon and the so-called dean investigation. there was no evidence. anyway, let me go to senator weinberg on that. do you have any confidence that chris christie would unearth the truth here on his own? having said, i never tried to do it before? because damn it, it's not my job. i mean, he has already said it's not my job to investigate what i did. >> you know, chris, you're kind of hitting the nail on the head. for me, this issue is about really -- it's almost two different issues. it is the crazy part of it that
i describe who sat in their office and dreamed up a traffic jam in ft. lee to last four days and put thousands upon thousands of people in jeopardy and put our infrastructure in jeopardy. who thought that up and why? we don't have the answer to that, and i agree with my colleague, majority leader greenwald, that none of us believe that bridget kelly did this on her own. that's one half the story. the other half of the story is all the people who were in charge, whether we're talking about the governor, the port authority commissioners, none of them, as far as i can see, did anything to actually find out what went on here. people have known about this since september 13th. i myself wrote a letter to the port authority on september 19th. i cc'ed governor on it. i cc'ed david samson on it.
i wrote to commissioner pat schubert. note, in fact, some of the documents have been released is there were e-mails going back and forth trying to figure out how to say thank you for your inquiry. >> but i like about what you've said, senator. you've always dealt with pat schuber. you always could count on some agency to give you an answer. you got to know people. they would give you quick answers and not waste your time with red tape. it sounds like you had that kind of relationship with mr. schubert. and then all of a sudden a guy that's always been helpful to you as a senior legislator has all of a sudden clammed up as if somebody from the top said, no talking here. >> well, again, i can only go by what i know. i selected pat schubert because he's one of the people i voted for to put on the port authority. i selected pat schuber because we do have a personal and good and honest relationship. and i particularly selected schuber because i said to him, i know when you go on the port
authority, you are a former county executive of bergen county. you will stand up for the people of bergen county. and that's why i reached out to pat schuber who promised me he would get to the bottom of it. and you know what, chris? i'm still waiting. >> thank you. senator weinberg. and assemblyman, majority leader louis greenwald. thank you both. coming up, the apparent vindictiveness that led to the bridge scandal has prompted other officials in new jersey to say they, too, were victims. he says his firing was politically motivated. also president obama tries on balance privacy concerns with the need to protect the country from terrorists. today he pulled in the reins on parts of the nsa's controversial phone surveillance program. and here's a bit of good news in the voter i.d. front, something we care about here. a judge in pennsylvania has struck down the state's new voter i.d. law. the photo voter i.d. card saying it made it too difficult for some people to vote.
but that's exactly why the republicans passed the law in the first place, and they've said so to make it tougher on democrats. and leave it to barbara bush to say it's time for someone not named bush or clinton to run for president. she's talking to you, jeb. and this is "hardball," the place for politics.
welcome back to "hardball." while the story of the george washington bridge has opened our eyes to an unseemly culture of exacting political payback in the office of christie appears to be just one of many examples of intimidation and retribution to come out from trenton. in 2010, a grand jury in hunterdon county, new jersey, returned a 43-count indictment of a local shefb and her two deputies for abuse of power and misconduct. according to "the new york times," the sheriff was an active supporter of governor
christie. but christie's appointed attorney general then moved in, before long the indictment against the sheriff's office was dismissed for what the state said were charges that sought to criminalize what it called simply bad management. well, there's no evidence that the governor himself ordered the dismissal of the charges. but the prosecutors who origi l originally brought the case were fired. and one of them joins us now, bennett barlin has fought a lawsuit against the state of new jersey. also with us right now is michael powell who covered the story for "the new york times." let me ask you, michael powell, thank you for joining us from "the new york times." this story you ran was in october, and it's only now, given the fact that it's january and after all the stories about the bridge closing and the mayhem behind it, if you will, it fits. tell me what you think it tells you in itself about what happened. does it have a story of itself, or does it need to be appended to the larger bridge story? >> well, or you could argue that the bridge story is part of this long -- this long kind of
pattern of real hardball politics by the governor. and he has, you know, in any number of ways kind of played retribution politics. >> well, if you look at it in just cartoon terms, a governor's person getted indicted for 4 # counts. he sends in his attorney general or his attorney general jumps in, frees the person from indictment, exonerated them, and then goes after the people who went after them in the first place and fires all them. it is pretty complete a story here of politics, not just if justice at all, certainly politics. >> oh, yeah. i think that, look. you have three really, you know, top-notch career prosecutors, republican, democrat, independent, they're all -- they all get essentially their car r careers trashed for doing their job, for bringing an indictment -- and i've talked to the grand jurors. i talked to four or five of the grand jurors. they all spoke. and they said this really seemed like a pretty simple case, and it was a simple case. it looks like until the attorney
general, who's appointed by the governor, intervened. >> well, in your piece you showed reaction from several of the jurors in the abrupt dismissal of the indictments against the sheriff's office. in fact, one juror said "the prosecutor was meticulous, and so were we. really the case felt like a no-brainer until the state killed it." another juror said, quote, we had no real disagreements. and still another juror said, quote, i still get angry. it was shameful and i keep trying to put it behind me because it was so obvious that this was about politics. mr. barlin, come in. i know you've got a case now against the governor, but you were bringing a case, you've got 43 counts approved by a grand jury. you had a case, the grand jurors thought it was a good case. when did you first sense politics was afoot when the governor's attorney general jumped in and pulled it out from under you? >> chris, we first became aware that this case was somewhat out of the ordinary when after the indictments were unsealed, it was reported in a local paper
that one of the defendants, the undersheriff, michael russo, claimed that governor christie himself and not the attorney general, not the lieutenant governor, but the governor himself was going to, quote, step in and kill the case. and subsequent events proved him correct. that's exactly what happened. not the governor but the attorney general who in new jersey is an appointed official and really is basically a subordinate of the governor. >> when did you know you were going to be bigfooted by the a.g.? >> well, what happened is, after the indictments were dismissed -- and i wasn't the prosecutor who presented the case. that was a very experienced trial attorney by the name of bill mcgovern. but what happened is after the indictment was dismissed and based on all of the suspicious events that preceded the dismissal, i encountered the acting prosecutor, the person who was installed by the attorney general during this period. and i said, look. this is clearly wrong.
there's no justification. there can't be any justification for the dismissal of all 43 counts. there's a very high legal standard that has to be met to justify the dismissal. and i was the next day spended without explanation. i asked for an explanation. i was told i wasn't entitled to one, had to turn in my badge, access keys, so on. my internet connection to the office was severed immediately. and for three weeks, i was in limbo until i received a one-sentence fax dismissal letter from the director of the division of criminal justice. >> did you feel all this time that you were under the punishing hand of chris christie? at the time? >> i felt -- whether it was christie or the administration in general, i clearly felt that the actions taken against me were vindictive, retaliatory and most importantly, chris, were intended to send a message to my colleagues in the office that if
anybody spoke out, there was going to be serious, serious consequences. >> what do you think of christie? >> well, it's difficult to think of him in positive terms after my experience. what's very interesting is that when i was a prosecutor for the state in the mid-'90s, i was blogging on a website that was focused on criminal justice issues. and my blog posts are still accessible. i was effusive in my praise of the governor when he was a federal prosecutor, specifically because of his effectiveness in combatting pervasive corruption in new jersey. so i was, frankly, just stunned that this administration came in and did what it did. >> well, let me go back to michael powell reporting this. this michael russo guy who was one of the defendants in the original 43-count indictment, he comes forward and tells somebody -- he gets quoted
telling a colleague, "don't worry. the governor's going to save us." and then subsequently the attorney general steps in. as i said, i used the term bigfooted, knocked out the indictments, all 43 of them. it sure looks like somebody has a friend in trenton. >> it certainly feels like that, chris. you look at the sheriff, that is the one who hired russo, was relatively -- i mean, exchanged a lot of e-mails with the lieutenant governor. one of the fund-raisers for the governor was also questioned in this case because he had gotten sort of an illegal i.d. from the sheriff. and that fund-raiser was -- actually was a pretty big friend of the governor's, political friend of the governor's. yes, it's one of these things you put your hand all around the foot of the elephant, and it sure looks like an elephant. >> sure looks like a lot of material for the vetters if this guy ever runs for president. thank you, ben barlyn and michael powell, great reporting, as always, for the great "new
york times." and tomorrow, the home of frank sinatra who says that she, too, was politically targeted by the christie crowd. and that's tomorrow at 8:00 in the morning. up next, stay out of the bushes. that's what jesse jackson famously once said, but now former first lady barbara bush is saying the same thing but a somewhat different vocabulary. and this is "hardball," the place for politics.
time for "the sideshow." they say two out of three ain't bad but after his father and brother jeb bush may be wondering if his time will ever come. he's got a lot of support within his own party, but when it comes to his own family, that's a different story. in the c-span interview aired yesterday, his mother, barbara
bush, said again she hopes he doesn't. >> i think this is a great american country, great country. and if we can't find more than two or three families to run for high office, that's silly. and i think the kennedys, clintons, bushes, there are just more families than that. i would hope that someone else would run, although there's no question in my mind that jeb is the best qualified person to run for president. but i hope he won't. because i think he'll get all my enemies. >> get all my enemies. if she has any. it's not the first time the outspoken matriarch has downplayed a third bush presidency. she made a similar statement last april. but who knows if jeb's feeling left out of the family tradition. after all, it was he, they say, who had his sights set on the white house long before his brother, george w., decided to run in 2000.
well, we dug deep into the nbc archives and found some clips from jeb's younger days. as it turns out, politics wasn't always in his blood. here he was campaigning in puerto rico during his father's first presidential bid back in 1980. that's 34 years ago. and as you'll see, he was a lot more apprehensive in those days. >> what's it like being a professional son of the candidate down here? >> it's not something that i would like to do the rest of my life, no. i get nervous at first. it's just i'm not a politician. >> but jeb evolved by the time his father was in his second term as vice president. in 1985, jeb was a lot less apprehensive and a lot more coy when asked about his political ambitions. >> jeb, you're gop county chairman in florida, right, dade county. are you looking to a career in politics? is that where your future lies? >> if i can get about half the income that you make, then i can get into politics.
until i attain that, i can't -- >> i wind up doing this for free, are you kidding? >> bryant gumbel. of course, jeb went on to become florida's secretary of commerce and then governor of florida. but the question remains, how many bushes are too many bushes? that's "hardball" for now. coming up next, "your business with j.j. ramberg." by a heart valve problem. that puts jim at a greater risk of stroke. for years, jim's medicine tied him to a monthly trip to the clinic to get his blood tested. but now, with once-a-day xarelto jim's on the move. jim's doctor recommended xarelto. like warfarin, xarelto is proven effective to reduce afib-related stroke risk. but xarelto is the first and only once-a-day prescription blood thinner for patients with afib not caused by a heart valve problem that doesn't require routine blood monitoring. so jim's not tied to that monitoring routine. [ gps ] proceed to the designated route. not today. [ male announcer ] for patients currently well managed on warfarin
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